Perhaps it was because I was trusting the motorists as they whizzed by me and my bicycle, but on my afternoon ride I started thinking about the issue of trust in libraries. It really seems central to what we do. Here are some examples, and you all come up with more I’m sure.
In every reference transaction there is an exchange of trust. Asking questions of a reference librarian is an act of reliance. If a patron perceives a librarian as untrustworthy they’re simply not going to feel comfortable asking them questions. Would you? Good reference librarians connect with users as fellow humans and empathize with them. The most successful transactions are those in which this connection is realized and users trust that the librarian’s concern leads to accurate and useful information. Of course, this is rarely explicit and usually takes place through friendliness, attentiveness, verbal cues and body languge. I don’t think it can be faked.
“Every reader his or her book” is an exercise in trust. In this statement, librarians trust individuals to choose what is best. Ranganathan trusted library users, which was a change of pace from previous didactic ways.
The notion of trust manifests itself in the new focus we have with our presence on the web. Users trust us enough to care about, say, the bookmarks we store on del.icio.us, and we trust users to not leave inappropriate comments on our weblogs and wikis. This is the same type of trust that enables people to be interested in our print collections, and enables us to trust that they aren’t going to rip pages out of books. Or fill out the crossword puzzles. Or use a piece of pizza as a bookmark. Sure, bad choices are occasionally made and people misbehave but these incidents appear to be the exception rather than the rule.
This sharing of trust is an important connection and something that our users appreciate. Trust is the strong suit of successful libraries, and Libraries in general would benefit if it became part of our “brand.” More people would use libraries if our institutions were associated with comfort and trust.
Non-user-centered library policy corrodes the trust that we should be aiming to develop. “No Drinks in the Library” equals “We don’t trust you to keep our library clean.” “You must give us your name to use our computers” equals “We think there’s a chance that you’re going to do something wrong or bad and we want to know how to find you.” The same case could me made about the fines we charge or overdue items.. Do they exist because we don’t trust our users to bring items back? Is this justified?
There are many barriers to the establishment of trust between a librarian and patron. Age, race, appearance, socioeconomic status, time of day, personality and more can affect people’s perceptions and prevent them from being comfortable around each other. However, we’re all human and we should all be in this together. Keep this in mind as you help people in the library this week. You’ll find that trusting the users of your library will improve your service and enhance your life.